Is your child anxious about moving up to secondary school?
Our experience of school, good or bad, stays with us for the rest of our lives and most adults can remember their first day at Secondary School. It was an exciting time but also a little scary. Were you scolded by a teacher because you lost your way? Did the older children play a practical joke on you? Did you lose your lunch money or bus fare? Gone probably are the days when the bus driver would let you board anyway and children these days might not have the necessary confidence or initiative to even try.
For parents and grandparents it is an emotional and perhaps anxious time too. Change can be exciting but we know that it has to be managed carefully. It is important to make the transition as smooth and as stress free as possible.
Common Causes of Anxiety
As a teacher of 20 years’ experience, here are some of the most common problems I found children encounter in the first few weeks of Secondary School and a few suggestions as to how to overcome them:
Scared of getting lost.
One of the biggest challenges is the size of the new school. There are lots of corridors to negotiate, staircases and perhaps tunnels too. The school day is structured differently with bells ringing at regular intervals and movement around the building. They worry that if they don’t get to the next class on time, the teacher might be cross and yell at them and even give them detention. As a teacher, the most tears I had to dry up during the first few days were those of poor little lost souls looking for the music department but ending up goodness knows where instead! What a state they could get themselves into!
- Most schools have excellent transition programmes and your child should have had a visit to the Secondary School already. If they haven’t or are still worried, phone the school and ask if you can pop back in again. Chances are that Admin staff or Senior Management will be around in last week of the holidays and it may be possible to take a quick trip round again. If not, drive past it or go into the car park a couple of times so that the building doesn’t look quite so threatening.
- Make sure they know their right from their left. It’s amazing how many children have difficulty with this and it doesn’t help when they are trying to follow directions or to read a map of the school. If they get lost, encourage them to ask a teacher or senior pupil to help them. The younger pupils make a great game out of sending new pupils in the wrong direction deliberately! You’ve been warned!
- Help them to understand the timetable. Explain that the school day will be structured differently and that it is important to move quickly from one lesson to another and not waste time. Advise them to write the name of the teacher and the classroom number next to the subject. It makes it impossible to help a child if they don’t know who their teacher is or what classroom they should be in.
- Try to familiarise them with the day ahead. Talk to them about it. For example discuss that tomorrow they will do a period of English, then Maths, then French then PE etc. Then of course prepare that school bag full of all the things they will need and don’t forget the PE kit!
- Try to avoid going to the toilet in between lessons and encourage them to follow the majority of the class to the next period. There is safety in numbers! If they get badly lost, rather than wander around the school, advise them to report to the school office immediately where a member of staff will make sure they get to class.
Lack of Confidence
Your child may become anxious and start to worry a lot.
- Acknowledge the fact that your child might feel nervous but reassure them that it is normal to feel slightly anxious and that the chances are that everyone else is feeling a bit worried too. Keep telling them that everything will be fine.
- If they can’t get to sleep at night, try to discuss all the good things that have happened at school and praise them for all the things they have managed to do so far. We all know that a drink of chamomile tea before bedtime can help us to sleep. A recent report I read suggests that it also alleviates anxiety so why not give it a try?
- If after a few days they are still unhappy and you begin to worry and wonder about whether you should contact the school, then you should contact the school. The Guidance teacher or Year Head is the person to discuss any worries with and the sooner you sort it out the better, especially if you suspect bullying.
Feeling lonely or doesn’t know anyone
- At first it can be difficult to make the right friends. Chances are that there are plenty of clubs on offer at school either at lunchtime or after school finishes. If your child is a lone child, then encourage them to join some clubs in order to get to know other children and make friends. Guidance staff can also play a useful role here. Eventually they will make lots of friends but it is important in the first few weeks to be there for them.
- If you can make arrangements to leave work a little earlier during the first week, that could make the world of difference to an anxious child. If you have time, consider getting involved in the PTA so that you also get to know some of the other mums and their children.
Getting into Trouble because they forget things
- One of the biggest changes your child will probably face is having to take more responsibility for themselves and become more independent. They may have to look after a bus pass, lunch money, musical instrument, library books, sports kit, mobile phone, keys etc. It’s usually best not to take things into school that you don’t need or would be sorry to lose. Help your child devise strategies for emergencies so that they know what to do if something goes wrong.
- Make sure that timetables are checked and school bags packed the night before to avoid the whole family getting stressed in the rush to set off in the morning. Make sure you regularly look in the school bag for notes and newsletters from the school. Do you need to fill in a form or sign some homework? Bagmail hardly every makes it home.
Finding the work too hard
This is one of the major causes of unhappiness at school. Children attending Secondary School can come from up to 20 different feeder Primary Schools in some areas. The mix of academic ability in one class is likely to be very wide-ranging and there may be gaps in your child’s basic numeracy and literacy causing difficulty across the whole curriculum.
Perhaps they are studying a foreign language and others have started earlier than them at Primary school. Some schools may broadband classes and some may set based on information sent up from Primary School.
There may also be some sort of assessment within the first few weeks of term. Your child may feel out of their depth and have gaps which need to be plugged. Likewise they might find that they are not being stretched enough due to the level of the class and are beginning to lose interest.
Kip Tip! Don’t wait until the first parent’s evening. That could be a whole year away or longer! You will need to act quickly. If your child is in a class where the work is too difficult he/she will struggle and the situation is likely to get worse rather than better. If they have been placed in a good set and you are reluctant for them to be moved down, then you must get extra support and the sooner you act the better.
Specific Learning Difficulties
Ask to speak to the Learning Support Dept. or Year Head if you fear your child may have a specific learning difficulty. If your child has special requirements that teachers should be aware of (e.g. needs overlays because of dyslexia or should wear glasses in class) check that the information has indeed been passed on to all the teachers. Schools are busy places and teachers are bombarded with information. Things do get overlooked so take steps to check that arrangements are in place.
Make sure your child can see the board and that there is not a problem with eyesight. Book an eye test if necessary. If the class is noisy, suggest that they sit as near the front as possible so that they can hear the teacher.
Could Additional Tuition Help?
If you continue to be worried, phone your local Kip McGrath centre for a no obligation discussion and free assessment. Like my own centre in Musselburgh, all Kip McGrath Centres have a team of fully qualified and experienced teachers who use their skills and expertise every day to help children achieve their full potential. We are always happy to help and peace of mind is only a phone call away.
Subjects such as maths and foreign languages are linear and it is best to nip problems in the bud as soon as possible. It’s amazing what can be achieved with just a few months on the Kip Programmes.
The October break will soon arrive and your child will have settled in well to their new school. Making the transition to secondary school is a big step for the entire family but one to be embraced and celebrated. A whole new future is opening up. Exciting subjects to learn, foreign trips to go on, lots of new people to meet and talents to be uncovered.
Enjoy secondary school everyone and the very best of luck!
Angela Giglio is an experienced teacher, former Head of Department and mum. Angela has taught in both the Independent and State sectors and now runs the very successful Kip McGrath Education Centre in Musselburgh, Edinburgh. The centre also has a special interest in helping children who may be suffering from visual distress/Irlen syndrome and/or dyslexia.